I know I may lose many of you while reading the following but here it goes…this blog post is about running.
Still with me? Okay.
While running may not immediately conjure up conventional notions of meditation practices, for me, running gets me in a meditative state. When I run, sure I can do it for the challenge, the endorphins, or a time to tune-out and listen to my favorite Podcast or an artfully crafted Spotify playlist, but my most rewarding excursions are those when I take the time to mindfully engage with my body via its motion.
In contrast to sitting mindfulness meditations where sensations in the body often arise subtly, a moving body is interacting more with its environment and thus it inevitably receives more input and/or stimulation. Therefore, for many people, movement enables one to more easily be aware of their bodies. This is true for me.
The repetitive movement patterns of my gate (its rhythm and pace), my foot strike on the ground, the stack of my shoulders over my hips and engagement of my torso, perhaps the tightness between my ribs as my body begins to crave oxygen for its muscles -- these are just a sampling of physical sensations I begin to attend to as I start my trek into the urban trailhead.
As I fall into embodiment, I unavoidably notice my mental patterns emerge and my mind begins to jump to the various “to-dos“ or a negative narrative about my sluggish legs which feel as though they’re made of cement. I allow it. I notice it. I kindly (without judgment) bring my awareness back to the present moment. Perhaps my way back in is through the sensation in those legs made of cement: heavy and cumbersome - struggling to lift away from their favorite cousin, asphalt.
Rather than deny and move away from my discomfort, I use it as a support to my consciousness of what is now. There is discomfort but there is not damaging pain. I move my mind closer to it, immerse my consciousness in it, and singularly focus on my legs of cement - so heavy and cumbersome. After several moments, I begin to notice the sensations change -- an energy moving in spirals up and down my thighs. The heaviness subsides and my pace quickens.
Obviously in a running meditation I cannot withdraw my complete attention from the outside world. I have to maintain awareness of my environment if not for anything else than my safety. Because of this fact, I can also use running as an opportunity to practice externalized mindfulness. So often runners traverse the same routes over and over and never actually notice their environment because they have turned inwards toward those mental patterns and become lost in thought. For those who identify, try having a gentle curiosity about the world around you. Whatever catches your attention, become interested in it and examine its qualities as fully as you can until the next moment/place/thing draws your interest to it.
However you decide to shift your perspective, whether you find an embodied practice or set an intention to convene with the present moment around you, running (or any other moving mediation) can be a great way to tap into both the physical benefits of movement and the mental and spiritual benefits of a divine meditative practice.
Lauren Ziel, MSW is a Registered Associate Clinical Social Worker, ASW #76483, working under the supervision of Vanessa Spooner, PsyD. Through the use of movement and mindfulness, Lauren develops specialized treatment for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, challenges in life-stage transitions, relational difficulties, and identity/intrapersonal development.